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Doctor Who Live: The Next Doctor – Review

Guest contributor Francis Milan gives his verdict on the big Capaldi reveal.

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Joining us now, live in the studio, exclusively on the BBC… Please welcome the Twelfth Doctor – a hero for a whole new generation. It’s – Peter Capaldi!

Doctor Who. Live. Never before have two terms been so tantalisingly conjoined. If nothing else, (which it wasn’t), the title in itself was a landmark in the show’s history. This was it. As announcements go, ‘flamboyant’ would be an understatement. We were in the midst of an event at the primest of Sunday’s primetime. From the utterance of one man’s name, the suppressed tension of many a fan was unleashed into mass tumult and emotional explosions. We wouldn’t have let it happen any other way.

Part of me was expecting a let-down, with the crafty and bamboozling Steven Moffat as showrunner. The title ‘The Next Doctor’ is identifiably reminiscent of 2008’s Christmas special. Would the Twelfth Doctor be David Morrisey? Had Moffat’s Sherlock-compelled mind led him to assume we would look, but not observe? “It was staring you in the face all week!” he would cackle. “The Twelfth Doctor is The Next Doctor!”. In such a time as this, questionable canonicity was the last thing going through my emotionally-troubled mind. You could say, now it’s all blown over, that it would have been possible; Peter Capaldi has, like Colin Baker in Arc of Infinity, had a major speaking role already. Two, in fact. But it wasn’t him, so it didn’t matter. We’re here for the glitz and glamour, anyway! It’s showtime!

“In his fight for good over evil, he’s saved the universe from deadly enemies.”

In a zippy, X Factor-style static-effect opening sequence, a well spoken man tells us what Doctor Who is all about. Sounds like a bit of a time-filler; but it really was the most epic introduction to anything ever. The most emphatic of hand-picked images from fifty years of the show flashed before our eyes faster than Doctor Who TV’s comments section at the time. Yeah, that fast. It did justice to the show, in an incomparable way, while making me ever tremblier. Did anyone else find themselves involuntarily twitching?

“Feast your eyes – the Whovians, ladies and gentlemen!”

Whoever wrote the script really is a fan. Zoe Ball’s tongue-in-cheek comment was a subtle, snide nod towards the largely abhorred title we hesitantly label ourselves as. This way, it’s extremely fitting that it was met by laughter – obviously, it has predominantly jokey connotations, because it’s apparent in everyone’s minds. It’s reassuring that a show like this could contain substantially discerning insight. The big bosses recognise our anguish! Perhaps a name change is in order… I’m jumping on the ‘Wholigan’ bandwagon – who’s with me?

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“One last hurrah of the drunk giraffe. It’s been great, man. It’s a really cool job. It’ll be hard to top.”

Before the proceedings went any further, we were graced with a brief note from the previous – by which, I mean current – incumbent. Matt Smith was utterly and genuinely distraught about his impending departure – which I hasten to imagine could shine through in his final outing. However, his loveable and energetic joviality prevails in this interview. Seeing as his tenure is all but rounded off, it’s powerful in retrospect to admire all of his impeachable landmarks and achievements – his grandiose penchant for fezzes and bow ties, and his quirky confrontation with Bill Nighy about the subject; his strong legacy of companions and antagonists; and his inane, yet wonderful sense of bizarreness. This is the full package of Matt Smith’s Doctor; and 50 years from now, he should be as fan-favourited as Tom Baker or David Tennant – serving as a high-caliber role model for Doctors of the future. (Paris Jackson, you’d better start revising.)

It was a treat to see interview snippets from many of the show’s lead actors, examining the fundamental distinction of each and every Doctor. Oh – apart from Paul McGann, who only had a half-second close-up. Shappi Khorsandi and Professor Brian Cox (among the select few celebrities on the VT who had practically nothing to do with the show) both insisted on Tom Baker being the definite article of Doctor characterisation, while Bonnie Langford remarked “[of Peter Davison] He’s a bit glam, actually”. It really put into perspective the new man’s part to play in Doctor Who’s concatenation of leads. Oddly enough, they never pictured him alongside his predecessors – or show anything linking him to the show’s history – once he had been revealed, which I felt was quite a shame.

“Of all the rooms to get that wrong in!”

The producers had picked very brave choices as guest stars, considering the show was being simulcast worldwide. A handful of them would be unknown to viewers overseas – perhaps a bold statement about the Britishness of the show. First on the sofa was the little boy from Outnumbered who isn’t very little anymore, the forever-young Peter Davison (how does he pull it off?) and Liza Tarbuck, immortalised in the Whoniverse for her role as Captain Kaliko in 2007’s toon’d-up serial The Infinite Quest. Next, Bernard Cribbins firmly defended his lack of guilt towards ‘killing’ the Tenth Doctor (we all hear ya, Wilf) and the now-beardless comedian Rufus Hound got some vital facts a bit wrong. I’m sure he knew that it was four knocks and not three, but was saying it to comedic effect, and Zoe Ball just took it the wrong way. I’ll never forgive him for saying ‘Peter Eccleston’, though!

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“He may be 1000 years old but he’s about to get a new lease of life…”

The final reveal was so brilliantly executed. It could hardly be open to controversy. I don’t agree with those saying the extravagance was a waste of the BBC’s money. Would the confetti cannon be put to better use in an episode? They made a superb choice of Doctor: an established, mature, yet offbeat and Hartnell-esque grumpy uncle, who, I hasten to add, is already pretty much my favourite of them all. I never felt this way with Matt’s quiet news-channel interview or David’s surprise entrée. He’ll be the ass-kicking, business-meaning, Dalek-daunting Doctor we will eulogise in the decades to come.

In a time of desolateness and deprivation, Doctor Who Live was an immense quench to the thirsts of every Who fan. I was there when Capaldi’s sweaty palm was revealed LIVE to a worldwide audience. Were you?

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